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The fruits of a sanctified life are often seen long after the person who lived that life has ceased from earthly strivings. This was true in a very special sense of Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, author of “More love to Thee, O Christ.” Although it is fifty years since Mrs. Prentiss went home to glory, her beautiful Christian life still radiates its spirit of trust and hope through her hymns and devotional writings.

As a child she was blessed with an unusual home. Her father, Edward Payson, was one of New England’s most famous clergymen, revered and beloved by thousands because of his saintly life. It is said that after his death the name of “Edward Payson” was given in baptism to thousands of children whose parents had been blessed through his consecrated ministry.

The daughter, who was born in 1818, was much like her father. Spiritually minded from childhood, she possessed unusual gifts as a writer. When she was only sixteen years old she contributed verses and prose to “The Youth’s Companion.” Later she taught school at Portland, Me., her birthplace, and in Ipswich, Mass., and Richmond, Va., at each place being greatly beloved by her pupils.

In 1845 she became the bride of Rev. George L. Prentiss, who later was a professor in Union Theological Seminary, New York City.

Her home life was beautiful. Those who knew her best, 412 described her as “a very bright-eyed little woman, with a keen sense of humor, who cared more to shine in her own happy household than in a wide circle of society.”

But all the while she was carrying a heavy burden. Throughout life she was a sufferer, and scarcely knew what it meant to be well. Chronic insomnia added to her afflictions, but as her body languished under physical chastening her spirit rose above pain and tribulation, daily growing more radiant and beautiful. It was out of these trying experiences that she wrote her famous story, “Stepping Heavenward.” The purpose of the book, as she herself explained, was “for strengthening and comforting other souls.”

It met with instant success, more than 200,000 copies being sold. It also was translated into many foreign languages. Another story, “The Flower of the Family,” likewise became very popular.

It was as poet and hymn-writer, however, that Mrs. Prentiss was destined to achieve fame. Her volume, “Religious Poems,” numbering one hundred and twenty-three, breathes a spirit of fervent devotion to Christ. “To love Christ more,” she said, “is the deepest need, the constant cry of my soul.... Out in the woods, and on my bed, and out driving, when I am happy and busy, and when I am sad and idle, the whisper keeps going up for more love, more love, more love!”

It is easy to understand how such a longing should finally find expression in her most famous hymn, “More love to Thee, O Christ.” The hymn in reality was the prayer of her life. It was born in 1856 during a time of great physical suffering and spiritual anxiety. It was written in great haste, and the last stanza was left incompleted. Not 413 until thirteen years later did Mrs. Prentiss show it to her husband. She then added a final line with a pencil and gave it to the printer, intending it only for private distribution. The following year, however, the “Great Revival” swept over America, and the hymn sprang into popularity everywhere.

When in August, 1878, the mortal remains of the sanctified singer were lowered into the grave, a company of intimate friends stood with bared heads and sang “More love to Thee, O Christ.” The whole Christian world seemed to join in mourning her death. From far-off China came a message of sympathy to the bereaved husband in the form of a fan on which Christian Chinese had inscribed the famous hymn in native characters.

After her death the following verse was found written on the flyleaf of one of her favorite books:

One hour with Jesus! How its peace outweighs

The ravishment of earthly love and praise;

How dearer far, emptied of self to lie

Low at His feet, and catch, perchance, His eye,

Alike content when He may give or take,

The sweet, the bitter, welcome for His sake.

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